Tuna congress to tackle fishing access, global opportunities

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/ 06 September) — Tuna industry players will gather here today (Friday) to explore strategies towards gaining more fishing access in the international waters and opportunities for further expansion in the growing global tuna market.

Joaquin Lu, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII), said Thursday such concerns will mainly highlight the discussions in the scheduled 14th National Tuna Congress, which is considered as the country’s biggest gathering of tuna industry stakeholders.

“We will tackle the latest developments in the industry at the international, domestic and regional levels as well as issues affecting the industry [that] prevent its optimum growth and development,” he said.

Lu said around 400 foreign and domestic delegates have confirmed to attend the annual gathering, which will be held at the Family Country Hotel and Convention Center here.

The 14th National Tuna Congress is among the highlights of the city’s 44th charter anniversary and 14th Tuna Festival.

The theme for this year’s congress is “Opening new grounds and strengthening commitments:  A resilient tuna industry.”

The congress proper is scheduled Friday but preliminary activities that include a tuna culinary challenge and opening of a two-day fishery trade fair and exhibit were held at the city’s fishport complex Thursday.

President Benigno Simeon Aguino III was earlier invited to keynote the congress’ opening but organizers said they have not received a confirmation on the matter.

Among those expected to attend Friday’s congress were Senator Francis Pangilinan, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Asis Perez, Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Executive Director Glenn Hurry and Palau’s Bureau of Fishery Management Director Nanette Malsol.

Lawyer Rene Barrion, chair of the congress’ program and resolution committee, said this year’s gathering will showcase the recent positive developments in the tuna industry that “give us reason to look forward with anticipation for an upbeat prospect of our industry.”

He specifically cited the reopening exclusively to local fishing fleets of Pocket 1 of the tuna-rich Pacific Ocean starting later this month, the impending signing of a joint-venture for the possible entry of 100 tuna handline fishing boats into its waters, the development of new products and their entry to new markets, the allocation by BFAR of financial assistance for research and the construction of a new BFAR laboratory at the fishport complex here.

“Can we afford to be optimistic? Indeed we can. (These) are just but some of the reasons to be confident of the future,” he said.

As cited in the congress’ theme, Barrion said “opening new grounds” as a concept is not limited to gaining access to fishing grounds but includes broader prospects of discovering new opportunities, exploring new markets, launching new ventures, developing new products and creating new ways to expand and sustain the industry.

Strengthening commitments, he said, “is a caveat that while we look forward to a bright future, we do not forget the lessons of the past. Our industry resolutely faced the challenges that came our way these recent years and we have grown as a mature industry in the process.”

“We have made our commitment to the advocacy of sustainable utilization of our resources and we continue to strengthen that commitment as we move forward,” he noted.

“While we recognize that the road ahead will not be all that easy and trouble-free, we are not afraid to explore, develop and create new openings and opportunities as we take comfort of the fact that our tuna industry is resilient enough to withstand the challenges along the way,” Barrion added.

This city, which is dubbed the Philippines’ tuna capital, posts an average tuna landings of 400,000 metric tons a year and generates at least US$ 280 million in export revenues.

But the tuna industry went on a major slump due to the implementation of a two-year fishing ban starting January 2010 in the international waters off the western and central Pacific Ocean by the WCPFC.

The WCPFC was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, of which the Philippines was a signatory, that came into force in 2004.

The commission imposed the fishing ban on all of its 25-member countries and 10 other observer-states as a result of scientific studies and the emergence of statistics that showed the drastic decline of tuna fish stocks, especially bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

The national government appealed with the WCPFC the reopening of the area to Filipino fishermen and was eventually granted last March exclusive access to a portion of the Pacific fishing grounds. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)